US Immigration Update: H-1B Reform, Student Visa Modifications, and Increased Fees for 2023

In 2023, the United States experienced an unprecedented influx of Indians. The US Mission to India achieved a major milestone in September by processing one million non-immigrant visa applications, marking a 20% increase from the previous year. The US Embassy and Consulates in India reported that over 1.2 million Indians visited the USA, solidifying the bilateral travel relationship as one of the strongest globally.

According to the US Embassy and Consulates in India, Indians now make up over 10% of all visa applicants worldwide. They account for 20% of all student visa applicants and a significant 65% of H&L-category (employment) visa applicants.

The United States introduced significant changes to its immigration policies throughout the year and has outlined further plans for 2024.

Here are the major visa and immigration changes announced by the United States in 2023:

1. H-1B Visas: Revamp Plan and Domestic Renewal Pilot

In 2023, the US State Department launched an in-country H-1B visa renewal pilot program, allowing 20,000 participants to renew their visas within the United States. However, spouses of H-1B employees are excluded, and participants must submit their visas to the State Department without traveling internationally during the renewal period.

Read in detail|
H-1B visa domestic renewal begins January 29, 2024: Key dates to note, fees & documents

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning significant modifications to the H-1B specialty occupation worker program, including measures to prevent multiple registrations from related entities and enhance anti-fraud measures.

Read in detail| Four ways the United States is planning to change the H-1B visa system

2. Work Permits: Relaxations and Extended Validity

In June, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) relaxed eligibility criteria for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) in compelling circumstances. This extension primarily benefits certain nonimmigrants facing employment challenges due to ongoing layoffs and visa backlogs.

Read in detail| United States relaxes rules for immigrants facing compelling circumstances

In October 2023, the USCIS announced an extension of the maximum validity of Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) to five years. This extension applies to initial applications and renewals and primarily targets non-citizens in specific categories requiring employment authorization.

Read in detail| US extends work permit validity to five years for Green Card hopefuls

3. Student Visa Changes: Higher Scrutiny and Increased Cost

To combat fraud and prevent the misuse of the appointment system, the United States introduced a new policy in November. Applicants for F, M, and J student visas must now input their own passport details while creating a profile and scheduling their visa appointment. Those with inaccurate passport numbers will not be accommodated at the Visa Application Centers (VAC).

Read in detail|

US introduces new rules for Indians applying for student visas

The practice of “legacy admissions” at prestigious American universities like Harvard and Stanford is facing heightened scrutiny. Challenges to this practice may face resistance in a country that traditionally values success based on individual merit.

Read in detail|
‘Legacy admissions’ under fire at US universities

4. Citizenship Tests: Potential Tougher Criteria

The United States is updating the citizenship test, raising concerns among immigrants and advocates who fear that the changes may disproportionately affect individuals with lower levels of English proficiency. The naturalization test is a crucial step toward citizenship, with applicants required to hold legal permanent residency for several years before becoming eligible.

Read in detail| US citizenship test changes are coming, raising concerns for those with low English skills

5. Costlier Visa Applications with Future Ease

The Biden administration successfully concluded a pilot project for issuing “paperless visas” as part of its efforts to modernize the visa process. This initiative aims to eliminate the need for physical visa stamps or pasting them on passport pages. The initial phase was implemented at the diplomatic mission in Dublin, with plans to gradually extend it further.

Read in detail| United States starts prep to turn your visa paperless; will this make your life easier?

In 2023, the United States adjusted processing fees for F, M, and J visas to align them with the actual costs incurred by consular officials.

Read in detail| US increases tourist and student visa fee

Additionally, the USCIS proposed significant fee increases across various immigration processes, including H-1B visas, due to revenue challenges aggravated by the pandemic. The rule is expected to be finalized in April 2024 and aims to address the ongoing financial shortfall.

Read in detail|
US may hike the fee for a critical H-1B visa step by 2050% in 2024; make green cards applications costlier too

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